A win, a tenth place and a non-start still netted championship leader Martin Rump enough points to retain a narrow lead in the 2014 Toyota Racing Series.
As the series heads north out of the third round, the championship is a battle between five drivers with first and second separated by the closest margin ever. Just two points separate leader Rump on 437 points from second placed Jann Mardenborough (435) who won the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy feature race at Highlands Motorsport Park on Sunday.
Rump, Mardenborough and third-placed Andrew Tang (426) could all use the coming two rounds and six races to lead and win the series. Also in the hunt are Damon Leitch, fourth in the championship with 420 points, and Egor Orudzhev, fifth on 406 points.
Rump’s championship weekend began well. He extended his championship advantage with victory in Saturday’s 15-lap race and then survived a challenging wet race on Sunday morning during which he hit the circuit’s unforgiving concrete walls three times.
Andrew Tang had pole for that first race but was slow off the line with wheelspin and Rump went through to lead by the first corner. He was never headed, though the field closed up under a yellow flag at mid-distance when Denis Korneev went into the wall of the start-finish straight.
In Sunday’s first race Rump started eighth and dropped to tenth when he hit the wall at the long turn 3, bending his steering. From that point on it was a matter of survival while the wet race progressed through a series of incidents and subsequent yellow flag/safety car periods.
Egor Orudzhev sped from the second row of the grid to lead by the end of the first lap in that race, clawing his way loser to Rump in the title points battle.
Then in the feature race for the Denny Hulme Memorial Trophy Rump’s car was missing from the grid. Though his crew had repaired the obvious suspension and steering damage, but the car had sustained a smashed bellhousing in the impacts. A disconsolate Rump stood at the start line as the cars gridded up.
His main championship rival, Egor Orudzhev, was far down the grid but needed only to secure a mid-field finish to take the championship lead.
Jann Mardenborough made no mistake off the start and through the 20-lap lap, while behind him Andrew Tang fought his way through from seventh on the grid to second.
It was Egor Orudzhev, though, who put in the charge of the series, rising as high as fourth before crashing out in the closing laps. He damaged the car’s right front suspension, his crash meaning neither of the two leaders would score points out of the final race.
Contact between Ryan Tveter and Steijn Schothorst slid Tveter down the order and put Schothorst out of the race, parked on the infield near the start line.
Leader Rump is in his first season in TRS and is registered as a rookie. He is advised by his countryman, TRS graduate and race winner Sten Pentus who recommended he enter the series in order to gain single-seater race experience.
The Toyota Racing Series, New Zealand’s premier motor racing category, has reached the mid-point of the 2014 championship, which is the tenth year. The series now heads north to Hampton Downs in the northern Waikato for the penultimate round, which includes a feature race for the New Zealand Motor Cup.